Jamycheal Mitchell: Mentally Ill Man Starves To Death In Virginia Jail Cell, Who Is To Blame For Oversight?

Jamycheal Mitchell starved to death in a squalid Virginia jail cell and officials did little to help the mentally ill man, his family alleges in a lawsuit.

As CNN reports, Mitchell was arrested and jailed in April 2015 after stealing $5.05 worth of soda and sweets. Unable to make bail, he would go on to spend the next four months in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail until he was found dead in August, 40 pounds lighter.

What happened in those four months is a matter of dispute.

Former inmates who were jailed with Mitchell say that they repeatedly pleaded with guards to help the mentally ill man, but the guards were indifferent.

One guard reportedly told an inmate, “As long as he doesn’t die on my watch.”

Another inmate, identified as Steven Gray, said he watched Jamycheal starve to death before his eyes.

“I watched a physically healthy young man grow into a physically broken old man in a matter of months.”

Other inmates say that jail staff repeatedly denied Mitchell his meals and even cut off the water to his cell.

Mitchell’s aunt, Roxanne Adams, says that she and Mitchell’s mother, Sonia Adams, said they repeatedly called the jail to express concerns about Jamycheal’s health and were brushed off because they weren’t on the inmate’s official visitor’s list.

That Jamycheal Mitchell was mentally ill is beyond dispute. He had suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for as long as anybody could remember, according to Slate. In jail, he repeatedly refused his medications, at times becoming combative with jail staff attempting to administer his anti-psychotic drugs. On at least one occasion, he attempted to take one of his pills through his nose as if he were snorting cocaine.

Perhaps out of boredom or as a cry for help, Mitchell repeatedly covered the walls of his cell and the plexiglass window on his cell door with his own feces.

When he was found dead in his cell in August, Mitchell was naked and had no bedding, and the walls of his cell covered in feces.

The medical examiner determined that Mitchell died of a heart condition “accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology.” The medical examiner’s report described Mitchell as “cachectic,” a term that describes such advanced starvation that it can’t be reversed with nutrition.

As his aunt Roxanne Adams described him, “He was unrecognizable — that’s how bad it was. He was unrecognizable. There’s something that has to be done. [He was] probably about 90 pounds and looked 70 years old.”

Finding out what happened to Jamycheal Mitchell while in the Hampton Roads jail is proving difficult. Jail spokesman Lt. Col Eugene Taylor has declined to speak publicly about the case, as has Jeff Rosen, an attorney representing the jail. The state Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services has also refused to comment.

Birmingham, Alabama-based NaphCare, which provided health care at the jail while Mitchell was incarcerated there but no longer does so, said in a statement that the company did as much as it could to get Mitchell transferred to a state mental hospital.

“The investigative reports of his death suggest gaps and failures within the state’s mental health system prevented Mr. Mitchell from receiving the inpatient care he needed.”

Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick states that Mitchell’s death is emblematic of a larger, nationwide problem of mentally ill individuals being “warehoused” in jails, rather than getting the mental health care they need.

“Every time someone with a mental illness expires in jail, we are reminded of how sprawling and intractable the problems with our mental health and criminal justice systems have become. Meaningful reforms are not impossible—the Commonwealth of Virginia has known for years that there is a serious problem here—but secret reports, deleted videotape, and pass-the-buck investigations change nothing.”

Jamycheal Mitchell’s family seeks $60 million in damages.

[Image via Mopie/Shutterstock]